The latest stand-alone—or is it a series kickoff?—from the chronicler of forensic archaeologist Gideon Oliver (Switcheroo, 2016, etc.) presents an art curator whose business trip to Milan is complicated by the momentous favor he agrees to do for an old friend.
Newly divorced, kept from his promised promotion from associate curator to curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and turning 40 to boot, Valentino Caruso is in no mood to be nice to anyone. But when Esther Lindauer, director of the Institute for the Recovery of Stolen Art, asks him to beg a favor on behalf of concentration camp survivor Solomon Bezzecca, whose legal bid to recover two early Renoir paintings taken from his family during the war has just been rejected, Val finds the old man so genuine that he can’t resist. And even though the court has just ruled in his favor, Val’s old mentor, Ulisse Agnello, the Milanese art supplier who bought the paintings for a pittance at a Hungarian flea market, is perfectly willing to loan the less valuable one to Sol, who’s more attached to that one anyway. Ulisse tells Val, however, that his hands are tied unless Benvenuto Castelnuovo, the wealthy couturier who financed his courtroom proceedings for a hefty share of the proceeds, and Giulietta Barone, Ulisse’s maybe-lover who’s scheduled to put the paintings on the block next month, both agree to the loan. The situation gets even dicier when Val learns that Ulisse has engaged activist restorer Dante Zampa, who has a notorious reputation for improving the canvases he works on, to uncover the Renoirs that X-ray analyses indicate lie hidden beneath the flea-market paintings Ulisse bought just for their frames. What could possibly go wrong—unless one of the principals in the deal gets murdered, and Val is on the scene when the paintings get stolen on two separate occasions?
Great Milanese backgrounds, literate dialogue among characters whose appearances are described to the last jot and tittle, pleasingly shifting alliances, and an epilogue that seems to go on forever.